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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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October: Judd and Jury
October 2021

Are pool fans ever happy?

More appropriately, perhaps, were pool fans this whiney before social media? I don’t recall.

What I do know is that they would find fault in a tournament that featured every top player in the world, with last place earning $50,000, and the promoter flying each fan in and putting them up at a posh hotel… meals included. (“Legroom on the plane was kinda tight!”)

Take the Judd Trump Experiment, for instance.

One thing no one can accuse Matchroom Pool of is not finding new and bold ways of creating interest and a buzz around their events. Give credit where it’s due, and Emily Frazer, the indefatigable builder of Matchroom’s pool portfolio, is constantly pushing her team to draw more fans and more attention to the events and to the sport. Anyone who’s been to or watched a Mosconi Cup, U.S. Open or World Pool Championship in recent years can see that the needle, however slowly, is starting to move. More viewers, more paying spectators, more money for the players.

So, when Frazer could barely contain her excitement in announcing that Trump, the 32-year-old former snooker world champion, Triple Crown (UK Championship, World Championship and Masters) winner and former world number one, would be competing in the U.S. Open Pool Championship in Atlantic City in September, pool fans around the globe rejoiced, right?

You’d have thought pool had suffered an indignity at the level of a sports network throwing pool over for something like cornhole. (Wait a second. That happened, didn’t it!)

Social media lit up with “fans” objecting to an outsider’s inclusion, insisting that the move was bastardizing the sport and insulting its players. Things turned even more sour when British betting services actually listed Trump as the tournament favorite at 6-1, a move that surely should have been treated as comic relief more than an insult.

As for Trump, he was open, thoughtful and respectful discussing the game and his chances in Atlantic City.

As they should, Matchroom chronicled Trump’s every move in the U.S., from his arrival to featuring him on the main TV table for each of his first four matches. His matches were reported on daily in the U.K. He was news.

And pool fans? They chimed in with expansive commentary on every match he played, every shot he took and every word he said. They couldn’t wait for him to fail.

And all the while, Frazer had to be grinning ear to ear.

The Judd Trump Experiment accomplished every goal she could have hoped for. His matches drew the highest ratings of the event. Even his YouTube-streamed Table Two match against South Africa’s Jason Theron tripled the next highest viewership of Table Two matches during the week. He drew eyeballs. Snooker fans watched. Pool fans watched. Non-fans watched.

As for Trump’s performance? As expected from one of the world’s top cueists, Trump shot straight enough to pummel the field’s weak and meek, got clobbered by one of the game’s powerhouses (Jayson Shaw), and lost a tight struggle against a solid-but-not-elite player (Theron). His Accu-Stats rating for the week was a middling .806, with a high of .875 in his opener against Joe Magee, and a low of .421 against Shaw. Respectable.

Afterwards, Trump was open about how much he enjoyed the experience, how much he learned and how much he respected the top players and the game itself.

“I made silly mistakes that I didn’t even know were mistakes at the time,” he said, in what may have been his most telling tip of the cap to the nuance and challenge of pool.

So, was this all just a publicity stunt? Let’s put it this way: It certainly wasn’t the blatant money grab that the Connor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather boxing match was. But it was an effort to showcase the sport to “second cousins” of the game who might start to follow it. Just where is the insult in that?

And lest pool fans forget, this isn’t a new idea from Matchroom. The early years of the Mosconi Cup, an event that all pool fans revere, included snooker stars like Steve Davis, Alex Higgins, Jimmy White … even Ronnie O’Sullivan. Why? Because the largest viewership for Matchroom events was in the U.K., and the addition of well-known snooker champions was a clever way to get cue fans to watch. Then it was up to the event to get them hooked and build the Cup to where it stood on its own.

Clearly, it worked.

I loved the Judd Trump Experiment. I don’t expect him to forsake the millions he makes in snooker for the thousands he could make in pool. (But don’t kid yourself that he couldn’t become great. Davis, the six-time world snooker champion, became a solid 9-ball player, reaching the quarterfinals of the World Pool Championship in 1999. And this was after his playing career had ended. Trump, now in his playing prime, could do the same.) What I liked was that he showed and told thousands of unfamiliar fans that pool is a difficult, challenging game, that it’s stars are exceptionally talented, and that it’s enjoyable.

So, why don’t we all just pull in the same direction. Embrace new ideas and promoters taking chances in their effort to grow the sport.

And find something to complain about, like the color of the four ball! (Now, that’s a fight I can get behind!)

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